Facebook's parent company Meta has been describing the so-called metaverse as a central part of its strategy for quite some time. CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls it "the next generation of the Internet." The metaverse refers to a digital living and working space in which users immerse themselves in the Internet, so to speak. For this purpose, technologies related to virtual reality (Virtual Reality) and augmented reality (Augmented Reality) are used. Meta has been selling VR glasses for several years now. So far, however, it has been a loss-making business, and the quantities are manageable.

Roland Lindner

Business correspondent in New York.

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Now, however, the market could start moving, Meta could face serious competition: According to consistent media reports, the electronics company Apple wanted to present its first computer glasses at its annual conference for software developers on Monday. It's designed to look like high-tech ski goggles and, according to observers, could be the most important new hardware product for the company since it launched its Apple Watch digital watch in 2015. It is intended to allow both VR and AR applications, which is called "mixed reality" in the industry. This means that it can represent a completely virtual world (VR), but also enrich the view of the real world with digital elements (AR).

The glasses will probably not be cheap, according to the reports, Apple has targeted a price of 3000 dollars. That would be far higher than the amounts Meta charges for its devices. A few days ago, the Internet company lowered the starting price in the USA by 2 to 100 dollars for its cheapest glasses Quest 300, at the same time it announced the next generation Quest 3 for the fall, which will cost 500 dollars. Last fall, he released the premium model Quest Pro, which initially cost $1500, but is now available for $1000.

Meta is the market leader so far

Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly said in the past that he sees augmented reality as a promising market for the future. His company allegedly worked on the glasses for seven years, and the project is said to have been delayed several times. As far as sales figures are concerned, Apple apparently didn't set expectations too high, at least in the beginning, and even revised them downwards. According to a report by the news agency "Bloomberg", the group initially expected sales of three million glasses in the first year, now it should be 900,000. In the longer term, however, significantly higher quantities are expected. Around 10 million copies of the Apple Watch are said to have been sold in the first year.

Apple's offensive comes at a time when the buzz around the metaverse has cooled somewhat. As a trending topic, the metaverse is now clearly outshone by artificial intelligence (AI), and the success of the ChatGPT language model has triggered a veritable arms race with AI initiatives in the technology industry. Mark Zuckerberg, when he recently presented quarterly figures, felt it was necessary to stick to his strategy for the metaverse beyond his AI projects. A "narrative" has developed that Meta is moving away from the metaverse, but this is not true. Apple, on the other hand, is likely to market its activities in the business differently than Meta. Marketing chief Greg Joswiak recently said he would never use the term "metaverse."

The technology industry has been working on digitally upgraded glasses for many years, but there has not yet been a breakthrough on a broad front. A notorious example of a flop is Google's Google Glass smart glasses, which came out in 2013. It inspired some technology enthusiasts, but it was also very controversial and never became a bestseller. Google stopped selling to consumers after a few years, then initially limited the business to applications for companies, but now wants to give this up altogether. VR glasses such as Quest have so far been used primarily for video games. Meta has tried to position the premium version Quest Pro as a device for professional use, but as the dramatic price reductions within a short period of time suggest, sales figures seem to be limited.

According to the market research group IDC, a total of around 2022.8 million VR or AR glasses were sold globally in 8. This was a decrease of more than 20 percent compared to the previous year, in which the business, like the video game industry in general, benefited from the Corona pandemic. For this year, however, IDC expects growth of 14 percent to more than 10 million units, and by 2027 it is expected to be more than 30 million pairs of glasses.

Meta has been the clear market leader so far and, according to IDC, recently had a share of almost 80 percent. But the business still brings high losses. Meta's "Reality Labs" division, which houses activities around the metaverse, brought in an operating loss of almost $339 billion in the first quarter on revenue of $4 million.